Dual code international and Rugby World Cup winner Jason Robinson has urged Sam Burgess that he needs to shift from “fitting in” to “standing out” in his pursuit of a place in the England Rugby World Cup squad.
Speaking to bathimpact as an ambassador for the O2 Think Big Initiative the former Sale and Bath back has urged cross-code Burgess to play to his strengths and focus on doing what he is good at, namely putting the fear of god into the opposition by using his bulk to get over the gain line.
Burgess has fared well so far in his transition into Union playing 18 games this season including one for the England Saxons. Whilst initially running out as a centre, the Dewsbury born battering ram has found a place in the back row in Bath’s recent games.
Whilst some would argue shifting him between positions may be detrimental to his development, Robinson disagrees. Instead he suggested it is best not to pigeon hole Burgess and give him a chance to develop in whichever position he finds success.
Whilst he expressed surprise at how adept Burgess has found himself in the back row he also warned against over-criticising a player “who has still got a lot to learn”. Nonetheless his enthusiasm for Burgess’ development could not be understated.
Drawing comparison to his own career in which Robinson progressed from League convert to England international and British Lion in only four months, he gave a massive boost to Burgess, predicting an England place in the World Cup squad if he can put in a few more strong performances.
Bath’s final game of the regular season is this Saturday against local rivals Gloucester. Having already booked their place in the play-offs the West Country outfit are ready to embark on their first serious assault on the Premiership title in a number of years. With so many big games in the coming weeks the stage would appear to be set for Burgess to deliver.
And it wasn’t just Burgess that Robinson was heaping praise on. Christian Wade was picked out as a player “who is just outside England’s bubble” with the wing berths “still open” in his opinion. Bemoaning the game’s lack of appetite for smaller evasive players he argued that you only have to look at some of Wade’s tries to see that he has an attacking threat that England could benefit from.
With the game now dominated by size and power with 6 foot plus wingers like George North, Alex Cuthbert and Julien Savea, Rugby would likely welcome a player of Robinson’s stature to the international scene. With Anthony Watson still only “developing” and Jack Nowell failing to nail down his place, Wade may well find himself joining the England World Cup squad when it is announced at the end of this month.
With that squad in mind Robinson also had his say on European Player of The Year Nick Abendanon. The Clermont full back moved from Bath this season and has had arguably the best year of his life. Whilst Mike Brown has been outstanding as the incumbent in the England shirt, Abendanon’s form has led to many in the game calling for his recall to the England squad.
However, since Stuart Lancaster took over as the England Head Coach in 2012 he has operated a system in which you can only play for England if you play in England unless there are “exceptional” circumstances. His reluctance to pick Steffon Armitage despite his equally world class performances over the last few years at Toulon are testament to this.
Nonetheless pundits, players and coaches are divided on the Abendanon issue. For Robinson the rules are clear and foreign-based players were well aware of them when signing their contracts; although he did concede that if Abendanon was still playing at Bath and was in the same form then “he would be fighting with Brown for the full-back jersey”.
Yet exceptional circumstances still remain and the 2003 Rugby World Cup winner is quite clear that those circumstances would include at least 3-4 backs being unavailable before Abendanon could be picked. But with Mike Brown still susceptible to concussion, it still remains to be seen how Stuart Lancaster’s hand may be forced in the coming months.
Jason Robinson was talking on behalf of O2 Think Big as part of a new initiative to help unemployed young people gain work experience and employability skills through rugby. For more information and other work experience opportunities visit Gothinkbig.co.uk